Monday, April 28, 2008

We Found It on Chupadera Mesa...!

As some of you know, Bruce and I have been looking for the perfect astronomy lot for some time. We had found a "good"--not "perfect"-- one in our own subdivision, but then some legal issues about an access road made it much less desirable for our purposes. So we backed out of the deal.

Last February, though I took N. and his friend A. to Grand Quivera on Chupadera Mesa. It was so peaceful there, and I knew the nights would be dark. But although I tried to imagine what the Spanish priest would have thought, sitting on the bench outside his church there, I did not think about it for our astronomy purposes.

Then, about a month ago, I saw an article in the Sunday paper about a sustainable development by the Heritage Land Conservancy located on Chupadera Mesa. When I contacted them, they offered us the chance to come down to look at land. To sweeten the deal, they said they'd put us up on-site overnight. Since Bruce and I have not had a weekend getaway together in over a year, we jumped at the opportunity.

So Saturday morning, we packed a Pesach lunch to-go, and headed down to Mountain Air, NM to meet our "Land Preservation Specialist" a.k.a. realtor who would take us out onto the Preserve and explain this unique concept of a private preserve/development on which people would live and work to preserve the land for multiple uses--ranching, recreation, and sustainable living in comfort and even luxury.

After a detour due to the fire in the Manzanos, and a mix-up about where to meet Charlie, we finally got into a company F-150 and were out on the land.

Our first stop was Goat Canyon Overlook in the Deer Canyon Preserve. Here, we looked out over Chupadera Mesa toward the Manzano Mountains, where the view was somewhat hazy due to the fires.

Here, Charlie talked a bit about the concept and the Heritage Land Conservancy, which is a non-profit organization. The Heritage Preserve is the for-profit arm that creates the preserves and developments. "Together, " we were told, "These organizations provide provide working examples of sustainable business practices and a set of initiatives designed to balance human needs... with the needs of a healthy ecosystem."

Here, Bruce and Charlie examine the map on a lot at the mesa top, looking for the building envelope.

The concept of a private for-profit preserve that serves the human need for quality of life interests us greatly. One reason that we are more interested in the Nature Conservancy than other "green" organizations is that many of the other groups assume that humans do not belong in earth's ecosystem. We disagree. We believe that the only way to preserve the land and live well on it is through for-profit enterprises in which people have use of (and therefore a stake in) the land they desire to preserve. We like the concept that people will take care of things that have value to them, because it enhances their quality of life.

We had looked at some lots at the base of Chupadera Mesa, and these Bruce pronounced "good" astronomy lots, but not "great."Then, nose of the F-150 pointed at the sky, we drove to the top of the Mesa.

Wow! Here we are looking south across the Mesa edge in the foreground, with the Pinos Mts. beyond, and beyond them, the tops of the Magdalena Mts. are just visible.

We knew that if we were to find the perfect astronomy lot, it would be up here! After surveying a few "great" lots,we were ready to go down again, but I suggested we take the "bumpy ride" (roads in process) across the top. There we found what Bruce called "Astronomy Row." Since these lots were platted, but not completely marked, Charlie suggested that we go to the guest house and meet up in the morning, with a GPS.

The guest houses are homes in the Phase I that the owners have not permanently occupied. They lease the house back to the company, and guests get to stay in them while looking for land.

The refrigerator was stocked with all kinds of goodies. Here Bruce is grilling our dinner on the porch. Steaks, nice and juicy. We microwaved some potatoes and vegetables, and uncorked the bottle of New Mexico Cabernet left for us.

We spent the evening making plans and gazing at the stars, as Bruce had brought his Schmitt-Cassegrain along for observing purposes.

The next morning, after we had our coffee on the porch and enjoyed the humming birds--they're back!--Charlie picked us up, armed with a GPS, so that we could look carefully at "Astronomy Row."

On the way up the Mesa, in the Open Space, two mule deer stood, watching us carefully, while I photographed them from the truck. When the truck was put back in gear, they slipped silently back into the Pinyon-Juniper woodland.

It was then on up the mesa to walk some lots.

The lots are approximately 20 acres each. Each has either a one acre or three acre building envelope on which the owners can put a house, guest-house and outbuilding. Owners can fence this portion, own animals, and even operate a small business at home. When closing on the land, the owner signs an easement which says that the rest of the land will be open for recreational use exclusively by the residents of the development, and that the land will be remediated as needed for beauty and enjoyment. The property owner also agrees to restrictive covenants that protect property values and views for everyone. Finally, the property owner enters into a Well Trust, to maintain the private wells that provide water.

On Sunday morning, we found our lot on the top of Chupadera Mesa. It sits on a corner between the main road (which will be gravel to better manage run-off) and a cul-de-sac. Here is a view along the road front, in the background are the Manzano Mts., the haze gone for the morning.

The lot sits at the crown of this part of the mesa, and the building envelope sits right on the ridgeline. It has 360 degree views, making it the "perfect" astronomy lot among all the "great" astronomy lots on "Astronomy Row" according to Bruce. Four mountain ranges can be clearly seen from here: the Manzanos, the Pinos, Sierra Blanco and the Capitans, and the Gallinas. On a clear day, one can also see the Magalenas, the Sandias, the Jemez, the Sangre de Cristos, and the Sacramentos. These are views that extend for more than 100 miles.

Here, we are looking into the more wooded area at the back of the lot from the side road that ends in a cul-de-sac.

The land is in reasonable shape--an open-meadow and trees. The plant life is mostly climax species appropriate for the place--pinyon-juniper woodland, with meadows of gramma grass. There are only a few pre-climax species, indicating overgrazing in the past.

We did look at several other lots near-by, my Engineering Geek being very thorough, but ultimately we kept coming back to this one. It had the highest elevation in the area, 7260 feet, with the best of the spectacular views.

The lot is not yet ready for purchase, because the road must be improved and electric wires and well lines must be run to the property line, so we put money down to reserve the lot until release. It will be ours to purchase when it is released.

We will not build for approximately 4 years.
Bruce will be retiring and starting his second career then, and I will done at the university and planning my third career.

But when we do, we plan for maximum efficiency and comfort--I am married to an engineer, so efficiency comes first!--with passive solar design, solar hot water, and electric, as well as rain-water harvesting and gray-water reclamation. The rain-water harvesting is required at the mesa top, the rest is strongly encouraged but optional. However, it only makes sense for our pocketbook to invest up front when building in order to recoup many energy savings over the years, especially with energy prices increasing as they are.

And of course, we plan to build an observatory. No question about that. The only question is whether it will be a dome or a slide-away roof, attached to the house or free-standing.

Bruce is looking forward to having his 'scopes permanently set up.

Four years are going to go by fast with all the planning and working we'll need to do to accomplish this dream.


Angela said...

Gorgeous! How exciting for you all! You are so right, four years will fly by...can't wait to hear about the updates!

Jenn Casey said...

Congratulations! How exciting. Sounds like an ideal set up for you--and I love the idea that there is a for-profit which is set up to help preserve the land for humans to enjoy. I agree with you on the issue that we humans are part of the ecosystem, too!

Shez said...

Wishing you all the best with this new home. My husband is green with envy with the thought of all those dark skies and great views.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, everyone!
We are very excited!

Angela--soon we will start studying the kinds of building techniques we want to use!You are right, four years is hardly enough time...

Jenn--I think the concept of sensible use by humans is a western attitude. The guy who started all of this--the private foundation and for-profit--is a fourth generation rancher, and loves the land as a real experience, whereas city folk from the "effete" east (by which westerners seem to mean 'liberal')tend to have a very unrealistic understanding of what it means to care for the land. Thus the Hollywood stars (California is considered to be 'effete' by westerners, too) insist of bad conservation practices due to poor understanding of the give-and-take needed. They therefore refuse to sensibly clear for fire-control for example, thus creating situations like we saw last fall.

Shez--we are talking about setting up an Astronomy Bed and Breakfast to host astronomers. So maybe, your husband can come out and view from there.